'Australia' opens top in Spain

BERLIN — Cash registers were ringing loudly at the European box office over the Christmas weekend as local pics battled it out with top U.S., and Australian, fare.

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” continued to rule in Germany and France, and “Australia” opened top in Spain, while a local holiday laffer dominated in Italy.

In Germany, holiday business was up 42% from the previous week as “Australia” and Teutonic period drama “Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family” contributed to the overall box office tally.

A diverse lineup provided something for everyone as the box office pie was divided fairly evenly among the week’s top pics.

“Escape 2 Africa” remained at number one for the fourth week running and the holiday favorite for families, taking in $4.3 million on its way to a $36.5 million cume.

Fox’s “Australia” bowed in second with a solid $4 million from 700, managing to win over viewers despite mixed reviews.

Stressing that the film was anything but original, trade magazine Blickpunkt: Film nevertheless praises Baz Luhrmann for his skill in weaving kitsch, romance and adventure into “a film that soars when it leaves reality behind and becomes a starry-eyed fairytale,” “a soaring fantasy” and a “musical without the songs.”

In third was Warners’ local laffer “1½ Knights: In Search of the Ravishing Herzelinde” with $3.5 million for an $8.1 million total, followed by Disney’s “Bedtime Stories,” which garnered $3 million from 520.

Rounding out the top five was Heinrich Breloer’s adaptation of “Buddenbrooks,” Thomas Mann’s classic about a wealthy 19th-century northern German merchant family on the verge of moral and financial ruin. Pic took in $2.7 million from 238, resulting in an outstanding per-location average of $11,432.

“Escape 2 Africa” is still in the Gallic catbird seat, even after four frames. Down a mere 7% on the week, it’s cumed a spectacular $29.2 million on 931 for Paramount — the fourth top perf of 2008 to date.

Mainly blah reviews did little to thwart the appeal of “Australia,” which earned Fox $4.65 million on 646 in its first five days.

“Largo Winch” is enjoying a decent run for Wild Bunch. The cult-comic-inspired thriller, toplining local thesp Tomer Sisley and Kristin Scott Thomas, was down 9% in its second frame for a cume of $7.1 million on 490.

The brothers Coen continue to work their magic on Gallic auds with “Burn After Reading.” Looking quite likely to be their best earner ever in France, its cume after three frames stood at $8.07 million on 475 for StudioCanal.

Off by 23% in its third frame, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” is not the runaway smash in Gaul it’s proving to be in many other territories. Its cume for Fox was nearly $7.73 million on 592.

There was plenty of festive cheer for Italian cinemas as cold weather and the inclement economic climate made a night at the movies seem a smart move.

Neri Parenti-helmed local laffer “Natale a Rio” (Christmas in Rio), out via Filmauro, took the Christmas number one spot — and saw sophomore sesh takings more than double to $11.2 million, with a bumper $18,723 average off 587 screens. Total box office now stands at $22.2 million.

At two, “Escape 2 Africa” earned $9.9 million for Universal in its second outing — up 50% on its debut weekend. Its screen average of 16,971 off 583 brought the running cume to $21.5 million.

There was a strong sophomore sesh, too, for another Italo comedy, Marcello Cesena’s “Il Cosmo sul Como,” out via Medusa. Takings leapt 62% to $5.6 million off 485 screens, with a running cume of $12.4 million.

George C. Wolfe’s romantic drama “Nights in Rodanthe” saw box office double in its second weekend. It took $2.3 million off 272 screens for Warner Brothers, with a $8,549 average. Total box office now stands at $4.4million.

At five, “The Spirit,” Frank Miller’s comic-book fantasy, bowed on $1.1 million off 227 screens with an $4,925 average for Sony.

New at number eight, acclaimed period drama “The Duchess,” distributed by BIM, took $824,589 from 160 screens in its first outing.

“Australia” outperformed forecasts in Spain, bowing on 512 and nabbing an upbeat $4.5 million for a four-day print average of $8,855. Universal’s “Changeling” placed second in its soph sesh sliding a mere 3% for a $5.4 million cume.

The Spanish B.O. looks set to end the year with a powerful animated bounce.

Paramount’s “Escape 2 Africa,” to date Spain’s Christmas B.O. champ, leapt a remarkable 57% for an excellent $18 million cume, placing third after five frames.

Also gaining considerable ground were BVI’s “Bolt,” which was up 38%, while the 3-D version of “Bolt,” playing on 30 screens, saw a 66% boost, establishing the best average of the weekend, $10,738.

Universal’s “The Tale of Desperaux” similarly climbed 45%.

“Twilight,” in fifth after four frames, cumed $14.2 million.

Sony’s “The Spirit” took $1.7 million off 350, and Aurum’s local pic “The Missing Lynx” took $431,378 from 182 off the back of enthusiastic reviews.

Additional reporting by Michael Day (Italy), David Hayhurst (France) and Emilio Mayorga (Spain).

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